Our First Visit to Station 131, Nuthampstead, England
By Dorothy Crouch
Wife, Veteran Jim Crouch
Jim and I learned of the existence of the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association in a very interesting way. We were spending our winters in the Fort Myers area of Florida. Jim loved to fish and spent many days out on the Gulf of Mexico. One day he came upon a fishing boat with the name Ding-A-Ling 2. This name sounded like it might be the name of a B-17 he had heard about while serving in the 398th Bomb Group of the 8th AF in WWII. So Jim had to ask about that name. He soon found out that the owner had been with the 8th AFstationed in England and was a member of the 8th AF Historical Society. The man told us about the Societys activities and gave us information about an upcoming tour to England. The tour included visits to a number of WWII 8th AF bases. Jim was immediately ready to go on that tour to see the old 398th Bomb Group base in Nuthampstead. So it was on September 12, 1976 that we joined a group of 8th AF Historical Society members on a chartered flight to England, leaving from the Kennedy International Airport for a scheduled two weeks in the United Kingdom. This would be our first return to the site of 8th Station 13, located in Nuthampstead. The tour was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for us. Now to some of the details of that trip.
After an early morning landing at Heathrow Airport we went by bus to the Regent Centre Hotel, ideally located in downtown London. It didnt take long after we arrived for the men of the tour to begin renewing old friendships. We knew that they had a lot to talk about and they had to begin telling their stories of what happened back in 1944 and 1945. The ladies took a bus to see the city and shop for a while. I always remember that the bus driver drove for some distance and then we all recognized that we were back passing our hotel. He had not known where to go and had gone the wrong direction. We all clapped as we went by the hotel. I teamed up with Minnie Braddock and a 398th son, Keith Jones. We visited various places and the Greater St. Marys Church, where we climbed the 125 steps to the top for a great view that surrounds the church. It was a fun afternoon. That evening there was an informal reception followed by a welcoming banquet at the hotel that we were sure not to be miss.
Tuesday morning found us out and about on the London city tour with a local guide. We were out to see Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, St. Pauls Cathedral and other famous areas. After the tour, we were free to go and explore on our own, or possibly do some shopping.
Wednesday morning, we were off to Cambridge, Ipswich, or Norwich by bus. The Nuthampstead tour group stayed at Cambridge while a large percentage of the other men and wives went to other locations. It was a pleasant trip to Cambridge, stopping in route for lunch. On Wednesday evening our 398th group met with the Friends of the Eighth in the Cambridge and from the Nuthampstead area.
Thursday, September 16 was the day we toured the old 398th Station 131 area in at Nuthampstead. It was indeed a memorable day! There were six veterans in the small group from the 398th. These included Col. Earl Barryhill, Col. Heyward Braddock and his wife Minnie, Phillip and Marge Stahlman, Louis and Betty Stoffer, William Howard Jones (his wife had recently passed away) and his eighteen-year-old son Keith and Jim and I. We traveled by private cars to the old base. Our escorts were Malcolm (Ozzie) Osborn, Vic Jenkins and other 398th friends. I remember how we went to a plowed field and walked out towards where there had been a B-17 crash (Louis Stoffer had been in that plane) and looked for any piece of metal or sign of that plane. That site was where Vic and Ozzie had found pieces of the plane at previous times. Going across the field, someone asked Col. Braddock if he was doing all right since he had had heart trouble and was not well. He told them he was fine and if he died right then and there, they could say he did just what he really wanted to do, and not to worry about him. Needless to say, he made the trip fine and was such an inspiration to everyone.
In Nuthampstead we visited the home of Tony and Greta Barker, who own some of the land where the old air base was. In a building nearby, which had been part of the 398th Headquarters Operations, Tony had the old original Hell from Heaven Group insignia, which he proudly showed. It was a real thrill for all of us to see. We also visited was the home of Tony and Beryl Clark, who lived in the big house on top of the little hill just beyond the old field area. Beryl had these neat corn dollies on her wall. They are actually made of wheat straw and since we admired them, Beryl took them off the wall and gave them to all six of us. We each took one and brought them home. I still have mine.
We had lunch was at The Bull Public House in Langley, with plenty of drinks and a Ploughmans Lunch. There was much conversation with the locals who were there with us. Later that afternoon we drove to Barkway House, an old Victorian building in the village of Barkway, to meet the Honorable Baron Dimsdale and the Baroness. Their oldest son, Robert Dimsdale, was also there. We also met many other local villagers and talked over the old 398th Bomb Group times in Nuthampstead. The Dimsdale family served us tea and biscuits, which we all appreciated. We enjoyed a leisurely drive back to the hotel in Cambridge after one very memorable day at Station 131! It was such a pleasure to meet and spend some time with all those wonderful English people.
On the Friday night banquet we had the real treat of listening to Roger Freeman recall 8th AF history. It was a splendid speech! He expressed the thankfulness of the English people for the Allied Forces who had helped save England from Hitler and his allies. He was a great speaker and also a great author. I do have some of his books. They are interesting 8th AF history, but not as memorable to me as the speech he made to us at that time.
Saturday found us going to the Cambridge American Cemetery near Madingly and attended a memorial service. It is an impressive but sad place to visit and to remember those buried there who gave their lives for freedom. After our visit at Madingly we were taken to Trinity College for a reception given by the City of Cambridge. After this special honor we walked to the nearby Guild Hall for a Glenn Miller concert. It was presented by the Millionaires which was a 45-piece band with the same assortment of instruments as that of the Miller Band. This band played the same musical program as that played by Glenn Miller on his last concert in England before his disappearance. What a fitting close to this great first reunion in England for the veterans of the 398th Bomb Group!
After our stay in Cambridge, the Stahlmans, the Jones and Jim and I boarded a train for Edinburgh, Scotland. We had to change trains more than once and I am really surprised that we made the trip so well. We arrived at the train station there without hotel reservations, but a taxi took us to a large hotel in a downtown location and we were lucky enough to get three rooms and could stay most of the week. We took a tour of the country side, visited a castle that overlooked the city, shopped and shopped since we were really in the center of the shopping area. Jim had enjoyed a Flak leave in Edinburgh, so he was anxious to return to see the area. We could not find where he had stayed then, since it had been too many years and things had changed. We enjoyed our visit to Scotland so very much! We returned by bus to London and stayed at the Kensington Hotel for a couple of nights. Since it was easy to walk around in that area, we saw more sights and enjoyed looking over that part of the city.
Our flight home was also sort of a memorable one. The plane had to be put into a holding pattern for about an hour before landing in New York. The guys were not happy veterans! One man across the isle from me caught his ashtray on fire. Finally, we could land. We were happy to be back to the good old USA after one very fine trip to the United Kingdom. We had met so many great people. I do not remember all the details, but I still have the original trip literature that was sent to us to remember it all by. There were over two hundred people on that special 8th AF Society trip. We flew on a spacious 707 jet. How much different it was from these days. The fare was so reasonable. The total cost of the tour from New York City was $1,069.00 for the two of us.
Some of us have returned several times to visit old Station 131 site again. We treasure all the wonderful friends we have met over there and continue to keep in touch with many of them. The English people certainly do know how to make us feel welcome and appreciated. As we get older it is so nice to recall all our wonderful memories, and the great friends we have met, and the wonderful times we have had. It is a very special part of our lives.
Written by Dorothy Crouch, widow of Jim Crouch. Jim Crouch was a Staff Sergeant and served as waist gunner and togglier in the 601st Squadron of the 398th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. Jim and Dorothy Crouch went to Nuthampstead in September 1976 with the 8th Air Force Historical Society Tour. This was 6 years before the bi-annual 398th tours began. There were 6 men from the 398th on the 1976 tour of over 200.
Veteran: Jim Crouch
Waist Gunner and Togglier, 601st Squadron
Author: Dorothy Crouch
Submitted to 398th Web Pages by: Wally Blackwell
Date article available to 398th Web Pages: February 2003